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State to blame for universities perennial salary crisis, VCs say

By Augustine Oduor | November 11th 2021


University lecturers demonstrate in the streets of Nairobi [Willis Awandu, Standard]

Vice-chancellors have revealed the cause of perennial challenges that dog university workers’ salary deals.

It is emerging that the government does not release the full amount agreed on to settle workers’ salary deals signed between it and the unions.

This results in a crisis every year as the arrears continue to pile.

The VCs have also faulted the manner in which salary negotiations are conducted, arguing that the government only drops arbitrary figures without a formula leaving them to figure out the rest.

Consequently, the State doesn’t always honour all the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).

Though the CBAs remain a hot topic discussed in low tones by the universities management, multiple interviews with VCs reveal that a change in negotiations strategy triggered acrimonious fallouts with unions in the past.

Also, the late start of the negotiations, which often led to payments done in arrears, has fanned the challenges and bad blood between unions and universities.

Technical University of Mombasa VC Prof Laila Abubakar said negotiations of CBAs ought to have a proper formula and the full amount agreed upon during negotiations released.

“The government just comes up with figures without a formula instead of first getting the formula which should determine the amount it sets aside to implement CBAs,” said Prof Abubakar.

She also cited the failure by the government to release the funds in time.

Prof Geoffrey Muluvi, the Vice Chancellors’ Committee chair argues that before any CBA negotiations can seriously begin, the government must formally set aside the funds for such negotiations.

“However, this has not been the case and instead huge balances are carried forward from each CBA cycle to another,” said Muluvi.

University managers who spoke to The Standard said the recent closure of Moi University was triggered by agitations for the full implementation of the current CBA.

Moi university staff took to the streets over their delayed salaries and failure by the institution to implement the 2017-21 CBA.

University Academic Staff Union (UASU) secretary-general Constantine Wasonga said universities and the government have been dishonest during all CBA negotiations and implementations.

“That is why you have seen and will continue to witness many problems in universities and as a union, we have advised our chapters never to relent in demanding what is rightfully theirs,” said Wasonga.

Speaking to The Standard, many VCs blamed the government for coming up with figures without a formula.

Previously, negotiations started by agreeing on percentages, which were then used to compute the total amount required to compensate staff.

“The amount of money to be given came in after negotiations were complete and percentages worked out.

“Based on the percentages, an estimate was worked out and the government availed the money,” said the VCs.

But since 2010, VCs explained that things started going wrong after the government resorted to availing cash and directing universities to share among staff without a proper procedure.

During the 2010-2013 CBA negotiations, the government released Sh7.8 billion to be shared among all staff without clear guidance.

The money was to benefit nearly 30,000 members of Uasu, Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu), and Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospital, and Allied Workers (Kudheiha).

The VCs explained that once the money was released, unions calculated the percentage benefits backwards.

“Calculating backward leads to errors because different grades are getting different percentages and within those grades, there are different numbers of people who have worked for different months,” said a VC familiar with the intrigues.

The VCs argue that the mistake was repeated in the 2013-2017 and the 2017-2021 CBAs.

But the situation was worse in the 2017-2021 deal. The Sh8.8 billion given to implement the CBA didn’t match the percentages given by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). 

SRC also came up with a formula different from what universities used in the past.

The managers said the right way to roll out CBAs is to negotiate genuinely and agree on percentages first before any cash leaves government coffers.

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